Once upon a time, we imagined the new millennium as an age we’d be commuting to work in flying cars. Never did we think our future would allow some of us to not have to commute at all! You can be half-dressed (or not dressed at all, if you choose to leave your camera off) while talking to anyone in the world at any time of the day. This means there has literally never been a time in history more ideal for interviewing people from all walks of life, than right now.
Whether it’s for a novel, an article, blog post, or podcast, interviewing experts in a specific field remains one of the most efficient ways to gather information about a topic. In this article, we will discuss how to interview in the Age of Zoom. Most of the concepts we will cover transfer to countless other videoconferencing platforms out there. These sites have exploded in popularity, out of sheer necessity, when the pandemic forced many businesses to work remotely.
So, let’s get right into it. I’m going to identify four keys to a successful interview process in the Age of Zoom.
4 Keys for How to Interview in the Age of Zoom
1. The Connection
I’m going to go against what your parents always taught you. You actually should talk to strangers. Lots of them. You may or may not get the chance to interview some fabulously rich A-list celebrity, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a wealth of interesting people to choose from.
It just so happens to be easier than ever to find people to interview. Whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram, experts of various fields are a comment or private message away. If you’re a podcaster, you’re probably already familiar with collaboration sites like MatchMaker.fm and PodcastGuests.com.
There’s no need to be afraid of reaching out to anyone. You can trust that people love talking about their passions and whatever they’re highly skilled at. Seldom do they get the chance to do that outside of their jobs. But before you ever reach out to someone for an interview, there are some rules of etiquette that must be followed.
First, do your research. Why is this particular person the right expert for your project? You don’t have to read all of their books or listen to every single one of their talks, but you do need to be familiar with their work, their titles, and overall content. What makes them tick? What drives them? Have some of their recent projects ready to mention in your pitch.
Next, you need to figure out which social media platform they’re most active on. Once you do that, I suggest reaching out with a private message. A public comment might work as well. Feel it out.
Let them know what you’re working on and why you’d like to talk to them. I once heard that people believe whatever you tell them as long as it’s a compliment. Flattery does go a long way, but it can’t be empty or overdone. What we’re looking for here is genuine respect.
If someone declines, move on to someone else. Do. Not. Badger. People. And don’t take it personally. If you don’t get a response at all, wait three days before contacting them again. Then leave it alone for good. Onward and upward.
2. The Pre-Interview
Once someone does agree to be interviewed, ask how much time they can give you. Respect whatever they say. I generally request for 30 minutes to an hour. But if all they can give me is 15 minutes, I make it work.
I come up with around 10 questions. Believe it or not, this is sometimes too many. Better to cut than run out of things to talk about. I email these questions to my interview guest prior to the conversation so they can be prepared and even make suggestions. They’re the experts, after all, and some of my questions might not be relevant to their particular field of study.
Finally, schedule a time to Zoom. Definitely be more mindful of their time than your own. This is especially true when you’re dealing with different time zones. Early evening for you could be midnight for someone else. Again, be clear about how much time you think you’ll need. Ten questions can easily last an hour if someone is talking about whatever they’re passionate about. If their time is limited, focus on the questions most relevant to your research. Once that’s settled, don’t forget to email them the meeting ID and passcode.
3. The Actual Interview
Preparation is key. Log in to the meeting first. Have your file with the questions in front of you so you don’t keep your interviewee waiting.
Remember, you are a person, not a robot. Act like it. You have your list of questions, but you’re not married to them. They’re just talking points. Sometimes people go off on irrelevant rants or tangents. Let them. You can always get back on track when the opportunity arises.
Don’t be afraid to improvise with the flow of conversation. Very often someone will say something surprising and even more interesting than what you prepared. Be ready to scrap questions and ask new ones as they come.
Let them do most of the talking. Save your voice for the questions. Respond when needed, of course. Keep your personal anecdotes to a bare minimum. The interview is about the knowledge they have to offer. You do sometimes need to throw in your own thoughts to let them know you’re tracking with them, but exercise constraint. Interviews are much more artful than normal conversations.
Keep in mind, technical issues may arise. Everyone and their mother is on Zoom now. (This might not be an exaggeration.) The point is that it can be a bit glitchy. So don’t be afraid to ask the person you’re speaking with to repeat something if you missed it. Chances are that if their voice dropped, it did so in the recording as well, which means you won’t be able to go back to it later.
4.) The Post-Interview
Thank them for their time and let them know you will keep them up to date about the project and when and how their information will be featured. Be responsible enough to follow through with this. I like to send a friendly thank-you email within five minutes after I end the meeting. This way, I won’t forget.
If applicable, ask if they know of anyone else in their field that might have something to offer on the subject as well. Make sure this comes out like you’re asking for a connection and not like what they had to offer wasn’t good enough.
Whatever you do, do not misquote or misrepresent what your expert said. Get their words right. This is especially important if the interview will be featured in a blog post or article of some kind. You have more wiggle room if it’s research for a work of fiction.
Some final thoughts: No longer do we have to meet up with someone in person to have a conversation, although we really shouldn’t stop doing that either. But with the ubiquity of Zoom and platforms like it, if you want to interview someone in Iceland, Africa, or perhaps even a scientist in Antarctica, you can now do that from the comfort of your own home. And the best part? You don’t even have to wear pants!